Three Women, Three Babies

Moms share true tales from the delivery room.

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Delivering a baby seems so easy on TV sitcoms: A woman announces she's in labor, rushes to the hospital (joking all the way), and pops out a perfect baby. In real life, however, deliveries don't follow a script. Giving birth can be anything from a practically spontaneous event to a medical emergency.

Unless you're having a planned C-section, there's no way of knowing how your delivery will unfold. That's why it's good to familiarize yourself with various possibilities. To help you do this, we asked three women to share their stories, and we also got tips and insights from Tracy W. Gaudet, M.D., executive director of integrative medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine and author of Body, Soul, and Baby (Bantam). You can't script your baby's birth, but you can prepare yourself for some of the plot twists that might unfold.

1. Unintended Natural Birth

Mom: Jeanne Reinke, 37, Slingerlands, N.Y.

Baby: Ellie, born March 4, 2007 (Reinke's third child)

The details: When her contractions started, Reinke and her husband headed to the hospital, but after three hours of false labor (contractions that don't cause the cervix to open significantly), she was sent home, where she labored for about five hours. When her contractions were three to five minutes apart, the couple set out for the hospital again. During the 20-minute drive, her contractions sped up even more.

Throughout her pregnancy, Reinke assumed she'd have an epidural, as she had with each of her two previous deliveries. However, by the time she made it to the hospital, it was too late for an epidural. "They barely had time to find a vein and get an IV into me for fluids," she recalls. Her contractions were coming every minute and were extremely intense: "All my body wanted to do was start pushing." Reinke's membranes hadn't ruptured yet, so her doctor did the honors. "I heard, 'The hook, please,' and I knew I was destined not to have an epidural this time," Reinke says. "I felt my water break, three minutes of pushing, and Ellie was born."

What she'd do differently: "Go to the hospital sooner!"

Dr. Gaudet's tips if you want a natural birth: 1. Find a doctor or certified nurse midwife who encourages you to be involved in medical decisions during pregnancy and childbirth and who is willing to help you try laboring in different positions, such as sitting on an exercise ball. 2. Take Bradley Method classes or another childbirth education course that values unmedicated vaginal delivery and whose instructors are committed to teaching you and your partner how to be actively involved in your labor and delivery. 3. Exercise during pregnancy so you'll have stamina for labor. 4. In addition to your partner, have a doula attend your labor. 5. Walk around during labor.

2. Planned Epidural

Mom: Sarah Pelmas, 43, San Francisco

Baby: Owen, born June 6, 2007 (Pelmas' first child)

The details: "My water broke in the middle of the night—just like in the movies," says Pelmas. However, contractions didn't start, so she and her husband went back to sleep. There were still no contractions the next morning, and since there's a risk of infection after the membranes have ruptured, her doctor suggested she go to the hospital at 2 p.m.

Once she arrived at the hospital, her contractions still hadn't begun, so the doctor gave her Pitocin, a drug that helps kick-start labor. "That sure ramped things up. Pitocin makes contractions pretty serious pretty quickly," Pelmas says. A couple of hours later, she asked for the anesthesiologist. She had planned to have an epidural and felt it was a good time to start it. The anesthesiologist arrived in 20 minutes and injected an anesthetic drug into the area near Pelmas' spinal cord. "The epidural was fantastic. I could still feel what was happening, but there was no pain," Pelmas says. She fell asleep for about four hours, and when she woke up, it was time to push. After about an hour and a half of pushing, her baby was born.

What she'd do differently: "Nothing. I had a great birth experience. It was much better than I imagined it would be."

Dr. Gaudet on how to know when you're in labor: 1. The amniotic sac breaks, releasing fluid, and you begin to experience contractions. 2. Contractions last progressively longer, and the interval between them grows consistently shorter. 3. Your contractions are so strong that you can't carry on a conversation during them. 4. Contractions continue even when you change positions. 5. A general rule of thumb is that you should go to the hospital when your water has broken and contractions are three to five minutes apart; however, that recommendation varies. Ask your doctor for an action plan that's best for you.

3. Unplanned Cesarean Section

Mom: Michelle McDermott, 28, New York City

Baby: Michael, born July 30, 2007 (McDermott's first child)

The details: Shortly before McDermott's due date, a checkup showed that her cervix was dilated 5 centimeters. Her doctor said she'd probably go into labor soon. Hoping that exercise might move things along, McDermott pulled on her walking shoes. During the next five days, she logged about 8 miles of walking, but two days after her due date, she was still dilated 5 centimeters and her doctor admitted her to the hospital.

McDermott was given Pitocin to induce contractions; however, five hours passed and little happened. "My mom, my husband and my brother and I were sitting around and laughing," she recalls. Things changed when her doctor ruptured her membranes, however. As the fluid drained, the doctor saw that it contained meconium, a substance from the baby's intestines that's a sign of fetal distress. At the same time, McDermott started to feel intense contractions. An epidural helped ease the discomfort, and she labored for two hours but remained dilated only 5 centimeters. Because the baby had a big head and was in distress, her doctor suggested a C-section, and McDermott agreed: "Even though the C-section was unplanned, it was time for him to come out one way or the other."

With her husband by her side in the operating room and a half-dozen family members in the waiting room, McDermott gave birth to a healthy boy. "He was big, and his umbilical cord was tethered twice around his legs," McDermott says. "There was no way he was going to come out on his own."

What she'd do differently: Nothing. "I felt calm and relaxed, and I was completely confident that my doctor and the nurses had everything under control."

What Dr. Gaudet wants you to know about C-sections: 1. You will probably be fully conscious, although if it's an emergency C-section, you may be given general anesthesia. 2. Your partner will be asked to leave the operating room during an emergency C-section. However, during a routine C-section, even one that was unplanned, your partner can usually stay in the room. 3. The C-section incision site can feel quite sore during the first few days after delivering your baby. Your doctor can prescribe pain medication that will be safe for you to take, even if you're breastfeeding. 4. While healing, C-section incision sites can be very itchy or numb. A sticky, clear discharge is typical during the first week or so; redness, a foul smell, yellow discharge or bleeding could indicate a tear or infection and requires a call to the doctor. 5. Intestinal gas and constipation can cause considerable post-op pain. To ease the discomfort, drink plenty of fluids, avoid such gas-producing foods as beans and cabbage and walk around as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead. If pain is severe or persistent, ask your doctor about medications that are safe if you're nursing.

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